Residents protest plastic bag policy

Recycling program: City says using clear bags a safer, more efficient collection method.

Recyclables left behind: Leona Fillion with the plastic bin she can no longer use for her recycling. Fillion objects to being asked to use plastic bags to hold her recyclables

Recyclables left behind: Leona Fillion with the plastic bin she can no longer use for her recycling. Fillion objects to being asked to use plastic bags to hold her recyclables

Why are residents being forced to buy garbage in an effort to reduce garbage?

This is a question Leona Fillion and some other Salmon Arm residents are asking, but city hall says there are good reasons for it.

Fillion is referring to the recycling program in Salmon Arm being carried out by BFI Canada/Progressive Waste Solutions, which requires all recyclables to be placed in clear or clear-blue bags. Fillion has been putting out her recyclables in a bin since the inception of curbside recycling in Salmon Arm two years ago. She recently received a letter saying recyclables must be put in a bag and, last week, the recyclables in her bin were not picked up but left behind.

“I’m furious. I don’t think it’s economical and I don’t think it’s ecological…,” Fillion says. “If they were going to change the contract or the program, I think there should have been a big announcement to get citizen input.”

People should have the option of using either bins or bags, she says.

“There are a few people around here who quite happily put their stuff in the bags, but there are some of us who would like the option of putting it in bins like it was set out when the program was introduced.”

Resident Rod Charlebois feels just as strongly, having sent copies of a letter he wrote to city hall to 25 of his neighbours.

“What irks me the most is we are being forced to buy the bags…,” he says. “We all got little tickets on our bins saying, ‘tut, tut, you can’t do that.’”

With 4,000 or 5,000 families in Salmon Arm, he says, if everyone puts out one bag per week, “we’re looking at 100,000 bags per year. Do we really want to add 100,000 bags to the garbage load, when we’ve taken the trouble to eliminate plastic grocery bags…? It makes no sense to me.”

He has seen bins used in other cities and doesn’t know why they can’t be used in Salmon Arm.

“I would be happy to get whatever bin they want. Just some kind of reusable vessel… There are various solutions without buying bags and throwing them away… This is just silly.”

Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of engineering and public works, says the requirement to put recyclables in clear bags is stipulated in bylaws and has been in all the city brochures and calendars since the program’s inception, but the city hasn’t been strictly enforcing all the rules in order to allow residents a grace period. The bags can be placed in bins.

“The whole idea is, the bag is supposed to be a cleaner, more efficient way of collecting recyclables, and hopefully reduces contamination of the loads.”

He said when recyclables are loose in bins and they contain a product like glass, for instance, and are dumped into the truck, they can potentially contaminate a whole load, causing it to be discarded. Bags, however, are also safer for workers and can reduce idling time of the trucks.

Niewenhuizen said the clear bags themselves are recyclable, unlike grocery store bags.

The city could adopt a bin program later, he said, but “when we went out with requests for proposals, the most cost-effective program was the conventional bag program. That was all done back in 2010 when we started the process. That’s not to say we wouldn’t move to bins, but right now we want the program to work.”

The large bins for automated bin programs can cost $200 to $300, he says, which would have to be passed on to the taxpayer.

BFI Canada took over from Aldon Waste Systems in the summer of 2012 and, in September, city hall instructed BFI to start giving out warning stickers about loose recyclables, with the intention to “start out in 2013 with the true commitment of the bylaw,” Niewenhuizen says.